Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti's Real Need

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, there seems to be no shortage of calls for Americans--including the federal government--to send aid. The earthquake is an undeniable tragedy. No decent person could find any pleasure in the resulting death and destruction. But no matter how tragic the situation, the needs of the Haitian people are not a claim on the lives and property of others.

This however, has not and will not stop the altruists from arguing otherwise. As one example, Thursday's Chronicle editorial is titled "Haiti's fresh hell: World must help nation to recover". But nowhere in the editorial are we told why we must help Haiti recover. It is assumed that we know, and agree, that morality demands that we help the Haitians in their time of need.

As the editorial acknowledges, Haiti has had a long history of political corruption. And, while the editorial states that that issue should be dealt with another day, I disagree. Haiti's current needs are largely a result of the culture that has allowed such corruption. Further, if the Chronicle addressed that issue in a principled manner, it would undermine its own claim that we must send aid to Haiti.

Haiti is a nation steeped in mysticism and altruism. According to Wikipedia, 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic. Vodou is practiced by a large portion of the population, though the number is unknown. Like Catholicism, Vodou preaches service to others as a moral ideal, that the needs of one man impose a moral obligation on others, that each individual must place the welfare and interests of others before his own.

This is precisely what Haiti's string of tin-pot dictators (and indeed every dictator in history) have demanded of the citizenry. The particular justifications have varied, but the nation's rulers have demanded that Haitians sacrifice for the "general welfare" or the "common good".

The Chronicle cannot question this premise, because it underlies their regular calls for Houstonians to do the same. Whether it is the paper's support of health care "reform", or shoving light rail down our throats, or restricting signs in Houston, or any other government intervention, the paper believes that each of us has a moral obligation to put aside our own personal desires and values in the same of some "higher" good--the alleged welfare of the community.

Of course, the Chronicle is hardly alone in embracing self-sacrificial service to others as the standard of morality. Most Americans share that belief, and government officials are more than happy to make them oblige. If one accepts the premise that the individual is subservient to the demands of the group--whether one's community, one's race, one's religion, or one's nation--then one will logically accept that it is proper for government to compel obedience to those demands.

These are the premises that underlie the corruption in Haiti, as well as the more open corruption that exists in America (such as the deals that were made to secure support for health care "reform"). These are the premises that must be rejected.

If Americans truly want to help Haitians, they would teach them the morality upon which America was implicitly founded. Each individual has the moral right of each individual to his own life, his own liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness. But before Americans can export such a moral code, they must discover it for themselves.


Mo said...

wouldn't this case fall under the ethics of emergencies. I guess most people are eager to help but naive about the obstructionist bureaucracy which seems to always survive no matter the natural disaster.

Brian Phillips said...

The ethics of emergencies is actually an attempt to obliterate ethics. For example, there are X people in a lifeboat but only enough water for X-1. Those who present such situations are trying to show that we will throw ethics out the window at certain times. But ethics applies to normal life, and that excludes emergencies--by definition emergencies are not normal.

The desire to help in Haiti is motivated almost entirely by altruism. Virtually every public figure I have heard speak on Haiti has said that we have an obligation to help those in need.

Mo said...

imagine one of those figures coming out and saying that we don't have an obligation and that it should be left up to voluntary donations. I think out cry would be loud.

but say your ally (Country X) was in a similar situation, helping him then would be selfish rather than being altruist.

Brian Phillips said...

Yesterday I heard my congressman asked about those who are saying that we shouldn't send aid to Haiti. He responded that he couldn't imagine anyone saying such a thing because we have an obligation to help.

I agree that helping our allies could be selfish. Even then, the aid should come from private citizens rather than the government, which can only get the aid by taking it from private citizens.